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Full text of "Onyeke The Problem Of Rape In Papua New Guinea An Exploration Of Conflicting Understandings"

Contemporary PNG Studies: DWU Research Journal Volume 11 November 2009 39 

The Problem of Rape in Papua New Guinea: An 
Exploration of Conflicting Understandings 

Donatus Onyeke 

Abstract 

There is a tendency in Papua New Guinea (PNG) for rape victims to be 
blamed for the offence. Statements made by the police on the increasing 
rate of rape often borders on stereotyping of the victims and portrays a 
misguided understanding of the factors that perpetuate rape. The main 
objective in this paper is to argue that in PNG, there is a felt need for the 
contextualization and understanding of rape as a social problem rather 
than a problem based on a particular victim's inadequacies. It is only by 
doing so can we better comprehend the socio-cultural factors that make 
rape possible. 

Key words: rape, social problem, victims, vulnerable, culturally accepted 
violence, socio-cultural factors 



Introduction 

Rape in Papua New Guinea is an existential problem. As part of our 
discussions on rape in the unit Social and Ethical Issues, ' I have always asked 
the female students whether they see themselves as potential rape victims. The 
answer has always been an overwhelming 'yes'. Asked whether they consider 
their male classmates as potential perpetrators, they have always answered in 
the affirmative. They emphasize that the possibility that it could happen is 
always in their consciousness. This is in line with Bradley's assertion about 
rape in PNG that 'rape and gang-rape have reached the point where many 
women live in fear'. 2 Recently, there has been an ever growing concern about 
the problem of rape in the media. The general public, non-governmental 
organizations (NGOs), churches, parliamentarians and more especially the 
police have all been genuinely concerned about the increasing rate of rape in 
the country. 

However, even in spite of the somewhat general concern and opprobrium about 
the prevalence of the problem, there is a conflict in the understanding of the 
social nature of rape. Some of the institutional actors like the police in 
accordance with their own ideology, self-interest and knowledge (or lack of it) 



The author is very grateful for the generous assistance of Anja Fischer in designing the 
data collection instruments amongst other things. 

Divine Word University (DWU) as part of its integral approach to education made it 
mandatory for all the students to study the two units Christian Ethics and Social & Ethical 
Issues. These are offered in the first year of studies. 

Bradley, C. (2001), Family and Sexual Violence in PNG: An Integrated Long-Term 
Strategy, Discussion Paper No. 84, Institute of National Affairs, Port Moresby, p. 1 



40 Onyeke, The Problem of Rape in Papua New Guinea 



tend toward blaming the victims rather than the system that makes rape 
possible. Thus, there is an apparent misunderstanding of how the problem of 
rape in PNG is to be diagnosed and responded to. Wrong diagnoses often lead 
to wrong solutions and the continuation of the problem. 

This article therefore tries to argue that the police in their statements 
inadvertently see rape as a personal problem. I will begin by exploring a broad 
range of views on the increasing rate of rape in the country. I will then 
critically analyze the views expressed by the police on rape, before trying to 
contextualize rape as a social problem. The importance of this study cannot be 
over-emphasized in the area of rape prevention. The way a particular problem 
is understood inevitably helps towards its solution. The police are at the centre 
of crime prevention and prosecution and proper policing involve not just 
reactive behaviour but more importantly proactive actions. In the case of rape, 
prevention is better than cure. But that can only happen with a good 
understanding of the factors involved. 

The social perception of the problem of rape in PNG 

Almost everyday, the two national newspapers - The National and the Post 
Courier - deliver harrowing stories of rape that indicate that the phenomenon 
has become pervasive, prevalent and systemic. Worried by the rampart increase 
in rape cases in the country, The National in its opinion column writes that: 

The incidence of rape throughout Papua New Guinea is reaching new 
heights. That is a savage indictment of our society, of the way in which 
our men view our women. Rape is fast reaching the point where it is 
becoming a tolerated, if not accepted social norm in some parts of the 
country. In other areas where the crime has been virtually unknown, 
rape now occurs at an increasingly frequent rate. 3 

In the same vein, Matthias Sapuri 4 adds that on a daily basis, two women on 
average are admitted at the Port Moresby General Hospital (POMGH) for rape- 
related problems. Comparing the increasing rate of rape now to how it was 20 
years ago when he was a medical student, he said that 'only one rape victim 
was treated at the Port Moresby General Hospital every six months. The 
hospital is now treating an average of two rape victims everyday' . 5 In the first 
six months of 2006, at the POMGH, up to 400 women complained to doctors 
about sexual assault and rape. 6 The same sentiments were expressed in a report 
by the Government of Papua New Guinea that: 

Young women all over the country are at high risk of rape, gang rape 
and other form of violent sexual assault and the attendant fear 



3 The National 1 7 October 2005, 'Worse than murder', p. 18 
Matthias Sapuri is the Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Papua 

New Guinea. 
Winis Map, 2005, Two Raped everyday', The National 13 October, p. 5 
Noel Pascoe, 2006, 'Are Rape victims ignored?' Post Courier, 7 July, p. 3 



Contemporary PNG Studies: DWU Research Journal Volume 11 November 2009 41 



accompanies them in many aspects of their daily life in urban and rural 
settings. It severely limits their rights to freedom and to assembly and 
their right to participate equally alongside young men in all forms of 
social, political and economic life. 7 

In a study by the Government of PNG and UNICEF in 1996 on the situation of 
women and children it was concluded that 'the pervasiveness of gang rape as a 
form of criminal activity has become a major threat to social stability and the 
security of women and families throughout PNG'. 8 

In their own report, The Office of National Planning reported a staggering 
average incidence of 110 rapes and other sexual offences against women for 
every 100, 000 females aged 15 and over in the population in 1997. 9 The 
highest statistic was 480 rapes and other sexual offences against women in the 
National Capital District per 100, 000 females 10 . 

Approximately 60 per cent of the men interviewed in a 1994 study said that 
they had participated in group rape. The same study found that 55 per cent of 
the women interviewed reported having had the experience of being forced to 
have sex against their will. 11 

Sir Paulias Matane 12 in noting the increasing menace of rape advocated for a 
holistic and integrated approach in dealing with the cankerworm as it is 'no 
longer just the victim's problem or the problem of the victim's family, but a 
national problem ... destroying society ... and discouraging foreigners from 
investing in the country'. 13 

Even the parliamentarians are also concerned about the scourge. Responding to 
questions in the House of Parliament, Carol Kidu 14 expressed her dismay at the 
recent increase in the level of rapes, pack-rapes and sexual abuse in the 
country. She enjoined men to 'speak up against rape and sexual violence 
because it is becoming a major social issue that must be addressed 
collectively'. 15 



Committee on the Rights of the Child, 2003, 'Considerations of Reports submitted by 
State Parties under Article 44 of the Convention - Papua New Guinea', UN Doc. 
CRC/C/28/Add. 20, 21 July, para. 172. 

UNICEF Papua New Guinea, 1996, Children, Women and Families in Papua New 
Guinea: A Situation Analysis. Port Moresby: Government of PNG, p. 144 

Office of National Planning, 1 998, Papua New Guinea Human Development Report. Port 
Moresby, Government of Papua New Guinea, p. 138 

Jeline Giris and Teresia Rynkiewich, 2005, Emerging Issues for Women and Children in 

Papua New Guinea, Goroka: The Melanesian Institute for Pastoral and Socio-economic 

Service, Inc., p. 21. 
11 

National Sex and Reproduction Research Team and Carol Jenkins, 1994. National 

Study of Sexual and Reproductive Behaviour in Papua New Guinea. Goroka: PNG 

Institute of Medical Research, Monograph No. 10 p, 102 

Sir Paulias Matane (Grand Chief) is the Governor-General of PNG 
13 The National, 30 March, 2006, 'Rape a national problem - G.G,' p. 1 . 

Dame Carol Kidu is the Minister for Social Development, Youths and Sports in PNG 
15 The National, 22 February, 2006, 'PNG a sick society: Baing', p. 1 . 



42 Onyeke, The Problem of Rape in Papua New Guinea 



Carol Kidu's statement came in response to questions in the house of 
parliament from another parliamentarian who in noting the alarming increase in 
rapes, incest and sexual abuse of children 'pointed out that there was a clear 
breakdown of the social fabric of our society'. 16 This imputation of guilt on the 
society is also taken up by Michael Unage 17 who claims that our society today 
is bedeviled by an escalation of physical, sexual and psychological violence on 
women, and therefore noted that 'the innumerable forms of violence against 
women in the country reflect the kind of perception we have about women'. 18 

According to UNICEF, 'rape and sexual assault have reached epidemic levels, 
but the vast majority of cases are not reported.' 19 It noted that the problem of 
rape in PNG now constitutes a big impediment to social cohesion and 
economic advancement as it limits the active participation of women in 
national life. Amnesty International observes that 

Sexual violence has become such a common occurrence in parts of the 
country that fear of rape and gang rape severely circumscribes the 
freedom of movement of women and girls. 20 

The Catholic Bishops Conference of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands 
noted in their statement on rape that 'this is a very serious problem that needs 
to be strongly addressed'. 21 To drastically checkmate the problem Mark Sevua 
(a National Court judge) advocates severe sentencing. 22 From the foregoing 
above, it is obvious that rape has been recognized as a big threat not just to the 
women but to the entire society: 'Rape is indeed a crime against humanity, not 
merely a crime against a particular woman.' 23 

However, sentiments expressed by the police - an institutional actor most 
directly involved in combating the crime - show a different kind of tone and 
understanding. On the one hand, their sense of angst is obvious, yet their 
statements either explicitly or implicitly portray an attitude of blame for the 
victims. 



16 ibid, p.1 
Michael Unage is a well known social commentator in PNG 
Michael Unage, 2005, 'Dealing with violence against women', The National, 10 March, 

p. 17. 

19 

UNICEF, Papua New Guinea, (see note 4, p. 4) 

20 

Amnesty International Papua New Guinea, 2006, Violence Against Women: Not 
Inevitable, Never Acceptable, p. 16 

The Catholic Bishops Conference of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands, 1999 
'Statement on the Problem of Rape', AGM. 

22 

Romulus Masiu, 2006, '30 years for rapist', The National, 31 July, p. 6. 

23 

Larry May & Robert Strikwerda, 1994, 'Men in Groups: Collective Responsibility for 
Rape', in http://www.istor. org/stable/38 10174 (Accessed 28/04/2008 01 :54). 



Contemporary PNG Studies: DWU Research Journal Volume 11 November 2009 43 



Evidence of attribution in verbal statements by the police 

Here, using the two national daily newspapers as the primary source of 
information, we shall explore the verbal statements of the police in the context 
in which they are reported with regard to the occurrence of rape. I shall then 
offer some interpretations of the meanings of their statements based not just on 
the actual semantics of the statements made by the police in different contexts, 
but also it's relation to every day, commonsense lived experiences and their 
weight as casual factors in rape. To do this, I shall present some actual 
examples of the reported statements from the dailies from which we evaluated 
the meanings and inferred the attribution processes. However, I will begin by 
looking briefly at the concept of attribution to help us understand our analysis. 

What do we mean by attribution? 

Sociologists and psychological social psychologists use the concept of 
atttibution to help us make sense of human behaviour and comprehend the 
essential factors that influence how people apportion responsibility when 
events occur. Atuibution theory is therefore the 'study of the causal 
interpretations that persons give to events in their environment' 24 , 'a judgment 
about audience perceptions of why an act of wrongdoing occurred, rather than 
causal perceptions of the act per se' . 25 

In other words, the focus here, from the perspective of the audience, observer 
or the interpreter, is not often on causality - what caused a particular event - but 
rather, the contributions made by the victims or actors in allowing it to happen. 
The emphasis therefore is on the victim or the actors, rather than on the system 
- the social and environmental contexts that made the event possible. Thus, 
'atuibution is a process that begins with social perception, progresses through 
causal judgment and social inference, and ends with behavioural 
consequences' , 26 

Intuitively, human beings are always trying to understand their own as well as 
others' behaviour and often, their interpretations shape and condition their 
responses to events and behaviour. Essentially, when an event occurs, 
intuitively, people gather information and then use it to form a causal judgment 
for that event and explain behaviours of actors involved. By so doing they 
apportion blame and responsibility on actors regardless of the observable 
causes of the event. 



24 

Kathleen S. Crittenden, 'Sociological Aspects of Attribution', Annual Review of 
Sociology, Vol. 9 (1983), p. 425 from http://www. istor. ora/stable/38 10174 (accessed 
04/08/2009 00:12) 

25 

Jeannine A. Gailey and Matthew T. Lee, 'An Integrated Model of Attribution of 
Responsibility for Wrongdoing in Organizations', Social Psychology Quarterly, Vol. 68, 
No.4 (Dec. 2005) p.338 from Jstor 

Kathleen S. Crittenden, 'Sociological Aspects of Attribution', Annual Review of 
Sociology, Vol. 9 (1983), p. 426 from http://www. istor. ora/stable/38 10174 (accessed 
04/08/2009 00:12) 



44 Onyeke, The Problem of Rape in Papua New Guinea 



This concept is important for us in our analysis of the statements of the police 
with regard to rape. 

Police and causal attribution of rape 

The two national dailies - The National and the Post Courier - are replete with 
stories of warnings by numerous provincial police commanders (PPC) about 
the escalating incidents of rapes in the country. For instance, in Western 
Highlands Province, the Provincial Police Commander, Theodore Muriki, 
while noting the escalating incidents of sexual attacks on minors in the 
province, nonetheless issued a warning to parents and guardians 'to be cautious 
and alert ... as many school girls were being targeted by adult males.' 27 As a 
way of dealing with the problem, he made an appeal 'to parents not to leave 
their young daughters alone in the house or in the gardens.' 28 

Analysis of the evidence of attribution: It is worrisome to note that his 
warning came immediately after a 7-year old girl who was alone was dragged 
into the coffee garden and raped. The worrisome aspect of this warning (for 
parents to be alert and cautious and not to leave their young daughters alone) is 
in the sense of attributing the blame on parents for not being cautious and alert 
and leaving their daughters alone in the house. The home (can be argued) is 
understandably the safest place to leave a child. Records show that countless 
women and girls have been raped in various situations and locations 
irrespective of whether they were alone or not as shown in some of the reports 
below: 

i. A 13 -year-old girl was pack-raped as her mother was forced to watch 
in their home. The gang tied up the mother and then took turns in 
raping her young daughter as she watched helplessly. 29 

ii. A woman was pack-raped right in her house. . .Police said six suspects 
confronted the victim and her husband with bush knives. The husband 
fearing for his life ran away leaving his wife behind. Police said the 
suspects held the woman captive in her house and repeatedly raped 
her. 30 

iii. A police man is on the run after he allegedly raped a minor in Port 
Moresby. The police officer allegedly raped a 7-year old girl (the 
daughter of another police officer) in the precincts of the police 
station. 31 



27 The National 9 August 2006, 'Sex attacks irk WHP cops', p. 5. 

28 Ibid, p. 5. 

29 

Rosalyn Albaniel, 2004, 'Mother watches daughter raped', Post Courier, 6 September, 

Si 3 - 

The National 7 September 2006, 'Woman raped inside own home', p. 8 

Clifford Faiparik, 2005, 'Cop rapist on minor at large', The National 2 August, p. 5. 



Contemporary PNG Studies: DWU Research Journal Volume 11 November 2009 45 



In the first and second instances above, the attribution factor of 'not being alert 
and cautious and not leaving the victim alone' disappears in the face of the 
reality of the rapes - they were in the security of their homes. In the third 
instance, the case of a police man raping a toddler in the police station 
automatically changes the attribution factor of the parents not being cautious 
and alert to other factors. 

In another instance, Western Highlands Police Chief, Wini Henao, gave a stern 
warning to young women not to go out at night alone. 32 His counter -part in the 
Southern Highlands Province, the Acting Provincial Police Commander, 
Benson Osil, issued a warning 'that women should avoid travelling at night if 
possible. Otherwise, they should move around in the company of close and 
trusted relatives.' 33 This warning came after a 19-year old girl was gang-raped 
to the state of unconsciousness while returning home from a night club. 34 

Analysis of the evidence of attribution : In this warning, the police attributed 
the blame to (i) being out at night and (ii) not being in the company of close 
relatives. The idea of warning girls and women not to be out at night if possible 
and to always be in the company of close relatives', flies in the face of the 
reality of rape in PNG. 

i. A mother was pack-raped in Port Moresby by 10 suspects after 
breaking into her house on Saturday night. She was with her family 
when the suspects attacked them. 3 

ii. A 14-year-old girl was forced out of her house and raped by two men 
. . . the girl and her family were fast asleep when the men broke into 
the house, dragged her out and raped her. 36 

iii. A young mother with a 9 month-old baby and three primary school 
girls were gang-raped by 12 men known to them. The woman and the 
three girls were in the company of her husband and two other male 
escorts when they were ambushed. 37 

iv. Two women were raped ... by a group of men pretending to leave 
them at home after a night out . . . 38 

In the first two instances above, the victims were not out at night. In the third, 
the victims were with close relatives and in the fourth one, it was the very men 
that they went out with that eventually raped them in their very home. This 



32 

The National, 3 May 2006, 'Cops warn women not to go out alone', p. 4. 

33 

The National, 1 9 January 2005, 'Police caution women in SHP about moving around at 
night', p. 5. 
34 Ibid, p. 5. 

The National, 30 March 2005, Two-pack raped', p. 2. 

Post Courier, 6 February 2004, '14-year old raped in Kavieng', p. 4. 

The National, 25 September 2006, 'Young mum and grade 6 girls raped', p. 7. 

Post Courier, 16 February 2005, 'Women raped', p. 5. 



46 Onyeke, The Problem of Rape in Papua New Guinea 



follows the well know fact that 'more than half of all reported rapes are 
committed by someone the survivor knows'. 39 In all the instances above, police 



bias for victim blame is very obvious. 

Giossi Labi 40 while acknowledging the increasing rate of rape in the country 
advised the women folk to arm themselves for protection against rape. He then 
appealed to parents 'not to let your daughters travel by themselves anywhere. 
Make sure that they are accompanied by a male relative or go in a group.' 41 

In Lae, the police Chief Simon Kauba while acknowledging the increasing 
incidents of rapes, especially in settlements, warned 'women to be careful 
when moving around at night or at secluded spots.' 42 Even though he noted that 
most of victims were raped while walking to the shops or to visit relatives at 
night, yet he insinuated that 'women are not taking due care' 43 , that 'most of 
the rape incidents occur because the victims are not security conscious' . 

As a solution he also advocated that women should 'avoid going out late at 
night, especially alone' 45 , 'to walk with their male companions and avoid 
isolated bush tracks and other remote spots' 46 and that women should 'not walk 
around alone, but if they do, to take every precaution to safeguard 
themselves' 47 and that 'girls and women who needed to leave their homes at 
night must get permission from their parents and be escorted by someone they 
trusted.' 48 

Analysis of the evidence of attribution: Giossi Labi's advice that women 
should arm themselves goes against the Port Moresby based Family and Sexual 
Violence Action Committee which in their widely circulated leaflet, warns 
women explicitly: 

• Do not try to use a dangerous weapon, such as a knife, because the 
man could take it from you and use it on you. 

• Do not fight back if you are attacked by an armed man or by a gang. 
But you could still make a noise, in case help is near. 49 



Buchwald, E., Flectcher, P.R., & Roth, M. (editors) 2005, Transforming A Rape 
Culture(revised edition), Minnesota: Milkweed Editions p.xi 

Giossi Labi, is the Chief of the Border and Coastal Police Command based in Lae, 
Morobe Province. 

Nancy Kalimda, 2006, Top Cop tells girls: Arm themselves', Post Courier, 15 February, 
p. 4. 

42 

Post Courier, 30 November 2004, 'Rape in Lae on rise', p. 4. 

43 

Peter Miva, 2005, 'Rapes prompt caution from Police Chief, The National, 26 October, 
p. 4. 

44 

The National, 1 1 October 2005, 'Police probe rape claim', p. 9. 
45 See, Peter Miva, 2005, ibid, p.4. 

4fi 

See, The National, 1 1 October, 2005, p.9. 

47 

The National, 15 February 2006, 'Lae's top cop alarmed over rise in rape cases', p.4. 

Annette Sete, 2006, 'Top Cop warns women to be careful', Post Courier, 20 
September, p. 4. 

Family and Sexual Violence Action Committee, 'Public Information Leaflet No. 6: What 
to do about Rape', Port Moresby, NCD pp. 3-4 



Contemporary PNG Studies: DWU Research Journal Volume 11 November 2009 47 



On the issue of getting permission to be to be out at night, it is hard to see how 
getting permission or not from one's parents as suggested by the police chief 
can be a solution to rape. There is basically no established correlation between 
getting or not getting permission from one's parents and the increasing 
incidence of rape in the country. The suggestion to avoid going out late at night 
come from a well-worn cliche and rape myth that girls who go to parties and 
clubs invariably invite rape upon themselves. 

Unfortunately, the majority of women who are raped are raped in the security 
of their homes. Besides, to tell a particular segment of the population not to go 
out at night or alone in their own social environment, in their own country, 
when there is no war, simply because of their gender is an unjustifiable case of 
gender bias. It is tantamount to imposing a curfew on the women simply 
because of their gender. Besides, how about those in essential services like 
female nurses and doctors who because of the call of duty must as a necessity 
be out at night? 

The issue of avoiding isolated bush tracks and other remote spots is hard to 
accept as a cause as PNG is a lush tropical country with dense vegetation, criss- 
crossed by a network of bush tracks. For a land area of about 462,840 sq. 
kilometres, the road network spans only 19,736 km of which only about 6% are 
paved. 50 Thus, the so-called 'bush tracks' constitute the people's living 
environment. 

The suggestion that women and girls who needed to leave their homes at night 
should seek the consent of their parents and be escorted by a trusted relative or 
acquaintance is inadequate as a solution. In most of the cases, it is well known 
that women and girls are often raped by those who are known and trusted by 
them - fathers against daughters, grandfathers against granddaughters, security 
personnel against hapless clients, uncles against nieces, police against citizens, 
friends, guardians, etc. This is evident in the following reports. 

i. A pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church is in court for allegedly 
raping an under aged girl. 51 

ii. A reserve policeman allegedly sexually assaulted a six year-old girl 
inside the... police station. The girl's mother had gone to the police 
station with her daughter, an elementary two pupil to lay a complaint 
against her husband over domestic issues... Because the mother 
needed to buy food for dinner at a nearby trade store - just 10 metres 
from the police station, she decided to leave her daughter on the bench 
at the station thinking it was safer there. On coming back, she could 
not find her daughter. After searching for her around the vicinity, she 
returned to the police station in time to see her daughter coming out of 



50 



See, 'Papua New Guinea: General data' from 



http://www .librarv.uu.nl/wesp/populstat/oceania/papuanqq.htm 
Post Courier, 6 October 2006, 'Pastor in rape case', p. 4. 



48 Onyeke, The Problem of Rape in Papua New Guinea 



one of the offices in the police station. Without suspecting anything, 
she took her daughter home only to discover that evening that she had 
been sexually assaulted. The girl then told the mother that the 
policeman lured her into the office with one kina, then threatened and 
sexually abused her... A medical report proved that her hymen had 
been torn and the external areas of her genitals sore and swollen. 52 

The NCD/Central Police Commander, Tony Wagambie, 'also warned females 
to try to be with a trusted male companion when moving around in public 
places to discourage ... attacks.' 53 Mr. Wagambie issued the warning after two 
women were in separate occasions, allegedly raped while on board PMV buses. 
The PMV drivers and crew members on both cases just watched and did 
nothing to stop the rapes. It is hard to see how the advice of the police in this 
case will yield any fruits in stopping rape. People must as a necessity use PMV 
buses as means of transport and it is practically impossible to be always in the 
company of 'trusted male companions when moving around' and not that it 
acts as a deterrent anyway. The inaction of the bus drivers and crew members 
are perfectly, culturally acceptable ways of dealing with criminality - as along 
as it does not directly concern them, then, it is fine. 

As an example, a woman came across a group of boys gang-raping a young girl 
and simply passed by; only to later on tell the victim that she could not help her 
because the rapists were her relatives. 54 

Point of departure 

As attitudes and behaviours are socialized, the verbal statements of the police 
might be a pointer to how those in authority, who have the power to make a 
difference (policy makers) and the whole society perceive rape. It is important 
to realize that, though a variety of causal interpretations and analysis of social 
problems are always possible based on peoples knowledge and vested interests, 
those in authority, more often than not, have an upper hand in determining the 
seriousness of any social problem. 

According to Ross and Staines, 'the analysis of social problems occurs in a 
political context'. 55 In other words, they argue that various political 
stakeholders and agencies have vested political interests in their choice of 
either individual or systemic attributions. Therefore, because of this partisan 
nature of analyzing social problems, authorities often tend towards personal 
attributions - ascribing blame for social problems on individuals rather than on 
the system - so as not to take the blame and to justify their efforts. In this case, 



52 

Rosalyn Albaniel and Abby Yadi, 2006, 'Cop molests 6-year-old', Post Courier, 20 July, 

Bonney Bonsella and Clifford Faiparik, 2004 'Warning against bus rape' The National, 
13 July, p. 3. 

Personal interview 

55 

Robert Ross and Graham, L. Staines, 1972, 'The Politics of Analyzing Social 
Problems', Social Problems, Vol. 20, No. 1 p. 18, from http://www. istor. org/stable/38 10174 
(•accessed 24/07/2009 02:09) 



Contemporary PNG Studies: DWU Research Journal Volume 11 November 2009 49 



'the authorities will want to show: that things are generally going well . . . that 
the problems that do exist are not the fault of the authorities or of the system 
but are created by aberrant behaviour of some members of the polity. . . ' 56 

The consequence of this scenario therefore, is that social problems are then 
treated like personal problems as the relevant actors deny any fault in their 
system and rather blame it on individuals. In the case of rape, then, rape simply 
occurs not because of any problem in the system - social and cultural attitudes 
and other environmental factors, - but because of personal inadequacies of the 
victims - being alone in the house, walking alone at night, being in secluded 
and lonely places, not being security conscious, etc. The police, as an 
institutional authority, are change agents in the society and their statements 
rightly or wrongly made can sway public opinions and perceptions on issues. 

According to Raab and Selznick, a social problem is 'any social situation 
which makes a substantial number of people unhappy or which seems to 
threaten society's ability to keep house'. 57 Rape in PNG is a social problem as 
it makes a great number of people uncomfortable. The problem of rape in the 
country has gone beyond the personal inadequacies of either the victim or the 
perpetrators. We don't often apportion blame to the victims of armed robbery 
or sorcery (as the current situation in the country indicates). When an armed 
robber takes what belongs to another person by force or under any other pretext 
or the sorcerer takes another person's life by whatever means, the police and 
the society at large do not blame the victims or excuse the perpetrators. The 
rapist is no different from both as he also violates another person's body and 
sexuality by force. Thus, we need to look for factors beyond the various 
reasons given by the police if we think of reducing the menace of rape. 'The 
sooner we recognize that fact and stop looking for endless excuses, 
justifications and causes for rape, the sooner we will begin the long journey 
towards reducing this crime' . 58 

Importance of the study 

One evident outcome of this article is that the careful collection and analysis of 
the verbal statements of the police as we have done can serve as a rich source 
of information about how the society at large perceives rape. As mentioned 
above, for a particular problem to take centre stage as a social problem, 
complex politicking is often involved. This impacts on the perception as well 
as how the society deals with it. Verbal statements can often reveal deeper 
convictions which one has about certain issues. Thus this study will be very 
useful in designing training and workshops aimed to help the police better 
understand the social nature of rape. This is important as it will impact 
positively on their responses to the problem of rape. 



56 ibid, p. 26 

Raab E. and Selznick G. J. 1959, Major Social Problems, 2 nd edition, Harper and Row, 
New York, p. 5 
58 The National, 21 March 2006, 'Enough is Enough', p. 20 



50 Onyeke, The Problem of Rape in Papua New Guinea 



Conclusion 

In this paper we have established through statements and reports that rape in 
PNG is becoming prevalent, pervasive and systemic. Even though it is not the 
domain of this paper to explore the factors that can lead to rape in PNG, it is 
obvious that an amalgam of factors outside the victim make it possible. No 
woman ever asks to be raped. Thus despite the fact that the authorities, in this 
case, the police, are vociferous in their condemnation of rape, their statements 
and actions unfortunately reveal a misguided and confusing understanding of 
the social nature of rape. Their statements reflect a predilection for seeing rape 
more as a personal problem than as a social problem. The consequences of this 
mistaken attribution are that other factors that would have helped in combating 
the crime are overlooked. 

It seems the police are obviously unaware of the cost-benefit considerations 
employed by rapists in the country: the benefits are often high because women 
and girls are easily available and the costs are relatively very low in that the 
level of prosecution is very low, the women are vulnerable in the first instance 
due to the already culturally accepted violence towards women, and then in 
most cases, the society might shelter them. Granted that today rapists, when 
prosecuted, often receive heavy sentences, but it is still a well known fact that 
heavy punishments do not act as deterrents to crime. We need to go beyond 
individual cases and identify the socio-cultural factors that make it conducive 
for men to rape. Until that happens, our prisons will continue to be filled up 
with rapists. 59 

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59 

The writer of this article is the prison chaplain of Beon Prisons in Madang, and 
therefore, has first hand information about the number of rapists and their sentences in 
the prison. 



Contemporary PNG Studies: DWU Research Journal Volume 11 November 2009 5 1 



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52 Onyeke, The Problem of Rape in Papua New Guinea 



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Author 

Donatus Onyeke, CSSP is a member of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit 
(Spiritans). After some pastoral work in both Aitape and Wewak Dioceses of 
PNG, he came to Divine Word University in Madang in 2004 where he has 
been teaching Christian Ethics and Social and Ethical Issues. He holds a Master 
of Arts (Theology) degree from Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, USA. 
Email: donyeke@dwu.ac.pg 



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